Since the May 25 murder of George Floyd, our country, and the world, has seen numerous people protesting Mr. Floyd’s death, racial and social injustice, and police brutality.
On a Thursday Zoom call with the media, San Francisco 49ers’ head coach Kyle Shanahan said, “…[W]e all started talking about it on Monday. It’s really continued all the way up until today. Not one day’s gone by where we haven’t discussed it…[Y]esterday, John [Lynch] and I got on a call with about 12 guys, just some of the veteran guys and things like that, just to continue to talk about it. It’s been great just being able for all of us to talk about. As I always say, we’ve got an impressive group of guys and they’ve been very impressive throughout this whole situation and it’s been very open and it’s been good to hear all of them through all this.”
Shanahan spoke on these issues, on Colin Kaepernick, on why we need to “open [our] eyes,” and more. He was passionate, emotional and powerful, but instead of hearing that from me, you should read and hear from him.
Open Your Eyes
“People are hurting and black people, mainly, are scared. The disturbing thing is they’ve been scared for a long time. This is it. This is the cry for help that they’ve been giving for a long time and people don’t totally listen…I think one thing that bothers me the most, just throughout this all and throughout my own life experiences and stuff, is racism is a big deal in our country right now. That’s a fact. That’s not debatable. It’s always been a big deal. It is today just like it was a hundred years ago. I think something, just as a white person, that bothers me is that I don’t think all white people realize that. There’s different parts of this country and stuff, but a lot of white people, if they don’t see it, they don’t think it’s happening…Racism’s all over. This is what black people deal with every day. White people are very sheltered to that and ignorant. That’s why I think that’s the message that’s been missed.
“I can’t tell you, like growing up and stuff and being in situations that bothers me the most, that resonates throughout all this and hearing all our players. I’ve been in sports my whole life and I’ve had white friends, black friends, Asian friends, all types of friends my whole life. I’ve been fortunate to be in situations where I was in communities or teams and stuff or where it wasn’t a big deal, the same stuff I see in my kids. And I’ll keep my kids in those types of situations, so it is never a big deal for them. It wasn’t for me, but there’s stuff as I got older, like with my black friends and stuff that I can promise you is consistent with all black friends, wherever I had them. I moved everywhere in my life, never lived anywhere longer than four years. I’ve been all over this country and I’ve had all types of friends. One thing I can tell you is it’s consistent. Some of my friends, some of my black friends, some of the toughest guys I’ve been around, just awesome dudes, who I’ve never seen get scared of anything. I can’t tell you how many times I’m with one of my black friends and we’re around a cop and I can feel something different in those guys. They’re scared. It’s something that has always bothered me. I’ve been in some situations worse than others, but regardless, I don’t know how they feel, but I can feel that they feel different than me. That’s something that is a fact. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a black guy in California, a black guy in Atlanta, it doesn’t matter. That’s something that they all feel.
“I don’t know [former NFL CB] Champ Bailey very well. I know my dad does, I know John Lynch does. When he gave his Hall of Fame speech last year about this stuff, and I could see the passion in Champ’s voice and the fear that he had for his kids and how real it was, and that’s the same stuff I’ve seen in my friends since, you know, I was 17, when we got caught sneaking out. There was a difference between the black friend who was scared and me who actually wasn’t, because I thought I had rights. That’s a white privilege that not everyone realizes and people need to know, just because you don’t see it, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. White people have to acknowledge that this is a fact, this isn’t debatable and there’s nothing more apparent than what happens to, numbers-wise, with black people and what’s going on with the police force. The numbers say it. Also, the life experiences of all black people say it. That’s something that isn’t debatable and we can’t confuse that with anything else or any individual. That’s a fact. It’s gone on way too long and I think now, I think white people are listening more than I’ve ever heard before, which is good. That’s the starting point, because it’s happened too long and it’s very clear. I don’t want to debate it anymore. No one does. Open your eyes.”
Working with Youth
“What I hear the most with the players, which I believe in a ton too, is what we can do for the youth and setting examples. If all kids could watch how our players interact with each other, that’s how all people should interact with each other, but when some people grow up in an all-white neighborhood or some people go grow up in an all-black neighborhood and the first time they hang out with the other side is in college and now they’re both trying to deal with all this stuff that they’ve dealt with because they haven’t hung around anyone in their life and they’re uncomfortable….We talk about, in our locker room, that’s why…I feel very privileged or fortunate that I’ve been around these situations because in a football locker room, since I was born, you’re around everybody and it makes it a lot easier and it makes it comfortable. The stuff that I think everyone’s born with, it doesn’t leave….
“We’d like to do something collectively as a team and that’s something we’re still discussing. But the main thing is, is how do you do it now? How do you do it a week from now? And how do you do it every day of your life? I think everyone has to do that somewhat individually and people have to be aware. They have to admit what’s wrong. They have to talk. We have to break through whatever the awkwardness that’s between races because that’s not there with everybody, but it’s there with way too many people I know our players are so passionate, so passionate, black guys and white guys, about trying to fix this. I think we all know it’s not an easy answer. It’s the whole country admitting what is wrong, which isn’t debatable. So, people need to come out from being sheltered or ignorant, whatever it is, and whoever those people are, kids need to help their parents. The parents need to help their parents. We all need to speak about it and do stuff. I know you asked me a question what we’re doing. I’m going to do a lot, but it’s not specific yet, but I know our guys are working at it hard.”
Lack of Diversity Among NFL Head Coaches and GMs
“…[H]ow the heck are there only four black coaches out of 32 head coaches? How are there only two GMs…[T]he majority of our players are black. So, the fact that there’s that few, that’s not debatable. I don’t know if people are openly thinking they’re doing it, which I think that people resort to that, but that’s what the problem is. That number is not debatable and that is an issue. I think we talk about it a lot and it is something that has to get better. I know they’ve thrown out a bunch of stuff. I only speak for myself, I try to hire people that I’ve worked with that are prepared for it and fortunately, that’s worked out well for me. I’ve got a Muslim coordinator, we’ve got a black coordinator. We have a lesbian on our staff. We have everything and it’s not just to show people that we’re trying to be diverse. It’s just because I’ve been around these people and they are really good at what they do. We can’t win without these people and that’s just how it works out. I don’t know why the numbers aren’t like that, but the numbers are wrong. That’s stuff that, hell yeah, we want to fix, but it’s not an easy answer. It’s continuing to talk, continuing to, the whole thing with society, everything. It’s all very similar on different levels and that’s why those numbers don’t lie. That’s what makes it a fact. That’s what white people have to admit.”
On How He Would Support Player Protests
“The same way we always have, but even probably with more passion. We understand it more and more, but I think our organization supported that as well as anyone. I think that we’ve done a great job of that. I think our team has represented that very well. I think people understand it so much more now than they did three years ago and I’m all for protests. I’m all for change. I hope the protests cause change.
“I hope whatever we’ve got to do to get the change, I’m for it and I know our organization is. I know Jed [York] is, I know our players are. We always have been. What’s different now and then, it’s embarrassing to say, probably, but I think white people are more passionate about it now than then. That’s our ignorance and that’s what upsets black people. They have every right to be upset because they haven’t just been telling us this the last few weeks. They’ve been telling us this since our grandparents and I’ve been hearing it from every one of my friends since I was 14. Then I hear Champ Bailey talking about it in his Hall of Fame speech. It’s all the time and it’s too long. Whatever’s got to get changed, let’s do it.”
On Colin Kaepernick
“I think the biggest thing that is so hard with the whole Colin thing is people misunderstanding what he was doing. I think that’s why the reactions have been hard the last couple of days over things that people are still confused. I mean, regardless of whether you agree with how he did it or not, that doesn’t matter. What Colin was protesting was something that was, should be respected by all humans. That did take a lot of courage. It is something that is 1000-percent wrong in what he was trying to fix and bring light to. And gosh, it was hard to bring light to the whole country because people didn’t want to totally hear it. It got diluted with so much different stuff.
“What helped me was being in San Francisco and I wasn’t here with Colin, but I was here with a lot of his teammates who were here with him and guys who did that with them and continued to do it when Colin was gone. That helped us a lot. That helped John and I a lot because there was no debate. These were the guys who started it and it was very clear when they would articulate it, why they were doing it. So, the whole debate on all the other stuff, the flag, everything, people don’t want to hear that. What he was doing was a big deal and the reason, whether you disagree with how he did it or not, it doesn’t matter. It’s three years later and there’s still some people not understanding what his message was and that’s, regardless, too many people aren’t understanding the message that everyone’s been giving for a long time. Colin did it the strongest out of anyone and people should respect him a ton for that and admire that.”
You can watch the whole video here.